The Inside Edge with Sarah and Drew

An evening of champions

(Sarah S. Brannen)


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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to
(10/16/2008) - It's time for another edition of The Inside Edge with our hard-working, all-knowing, behind-the-scenes reporters Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins.

An Evening With Champions

Every year since 1970, Harvard University students have put on a skating show to benefit children's cancer research and care. An Evening With Champions has become a tradition for us too, and this year Drew was once again on the ice, while Sarah and her camera held court in the hockey box. Well, Drew was on the ice eventually, as a mechanical problem with the plane meant that he and Jessica Rose Paetsch didn't arrive in Boston until 3:00 a.m. on Thursday morning.

It was fantastic to see old friends and make some new friends too! Notably missing from the cast this year was Harvard sophomore Emily Hughes. We learned that Emily certainly would have been in the show, but she had to compete at North Atlantic Regionals and it just wasn't possible to do both.

Friday morning brought everyone together to rehearse the opening and closing numbers. Elin Schran (Olympic champion Dr. Tenley Albright's daughter) did the choreography, and also stood in for Paul, who wasn't able to be there. She did an... interesting version of his classic spread-eagle. Adam Rippon arrived diva-ishly late and a few of us gave him a hard time since we had to stop rehearsal and fill him in on the choreo. When we asked if he had just driven up to Boston, he replied: "No. I flew in last night," and flapped his arms Pavlova-style, as if he had flown in on a giant swan. It turns out Adam was practicing early that morning, so we forgave him for being late.

That afternoon, lighting cues during the warm-up practice meant that the lights kept changing without warning from red to blue, bright to pitch dark. One pattern of spinning red circles was very unnerving to skate across! Despite the unusual conditions, everyone brought their A game. Adam landed some gorgeous triple Axel-triple toe combinations and worked on his quad toe. Scott Smith landed a good quad Salchow as well as some pretty triple Axels. Matt Savoie, who has only been training for the last three weeks, didn't want to be left out and landed a nice triple Axel too.

"I wanted to make sure I could still do it," he said.

Jess and Drew, making their show debut, skated to The Phantom of the Opera. There was some discussion about whether to wear a mask, but it would have made it too hard to see under the show lights. In the end, Sarah ran backstage during intermission and put her art skills to use painting a white "mask" on Drew's face. It looked fairly convincing during the show, although slightly ridiculous off the ice!

Clown hair?

After Friday's show, all the skaters went to Eliot House on the Harvard campus for a reception. Paul Wylie, who hosted the show as usual, spent some time with the show's creators, 1971 U. S. champion John Misha Petkevich and John's Harvard roommate, John Powers. Everyone is excited that next year will be the 40th edition of the show, and we're sure it will be a special one.

We spent some time with Adam, talking about his skating, life in New Jersey, and, of course, his hair. Did he do anything fun this past summer?

"I went to Andorra," said Adam. "It was beautiful, I loved it. Nikolai [Morozov] had a camp for a bunch of his students because he wanted us to skate at altitude during the summer. It was great skating and amazing scenery. If you had a rough skate you could run up the mountain and have this amazing postcard view."

We wondered if reporters had been bugging him about adding the triple Axel to his jump repertoire.

"They were, until I could actually do it. I feel like I've had a huge thousand-pound burden lifted off me. One day it just clicked, and I really felt it. Tonight was the first time I did it in a show, so it gives me a lot of confidence. If I can do it in a show, skating last, after not skating since the morning, then there's no reason I can't do it in competition. I have two in the free skate."

So, more importantly, how will you be styling your hair?

"The most important question. I love my curly hair! Nikolai really likes the straight hair so there is a ninety percent chance that I will have straight hair, but you never know, there is that ten percent chance that I could have curly hair. I'm hopeful that I can convince him maybe for the long program. It's Pagliacci, the sad clown, so I'm thinking, you know -- clown hair. I have it!"

We asked if he has been enjoying his time in Drew's home town, Boston?

"I love it. Everyone runs here," he said, referring to the crowds of joggers along the Charles River. "In New Jersey, people only run if there's a fire. Or a sale."

Morgan and Leif

When Adam left to sign autographs for, among others, several young girls who seemed to think of him as the new "Tiger Beat" cutie, Morgan Matthews and Leif Gislason mingled their way over to gab. Drew and Morgan compared notes on the differences from training in isolation with their previous partners, to skating at a rink with several other high-level teams.

"I think the best skaters have the most positive attitude and are the best at training," said Morgan. "We all help each other out and egg each other on."

Leif added, "I trained with Tanith [Belbin] and Ben [Agosto] in Michigan, and we're really good friends and they're both really awesome people. And Oksana Domina and Maxim Shabalin are such a surprise to me. They're two of the nicest, easy-going, friendly people. They're so funny on the ice."

"They're always laughing," said Morgan.

"Smiling and laughing, having a great time," agreed Leif. "They're so, so talented. They'll be by the boards joking, and then they'll go and do this absolutely world-class pattern of a compulsory."

Morgan and Leif are excited about skating for the United States and competing at the upcoming Eastern sectional championships. "Last year," said Morgan, "We were training and training and training, and everyone else was leaving for competitions, and the only satisfaction we had was words from our coaches, and they're Russian."

Leif explained, "The very best you ever get is, 'Not bad, not bad.' Which means it's perfect!"

The show

On Saturday afternoon, there's another tradition: a fun skate for people involved with the show and the Jimmy Fund, with most of the skaters in the show. Several members of the Harvard women's hockey team got on the ice and compared stick technique with Leif, Mark [Ladwig], and Dan Hollander.

On the other side of the rink, Drew taught death spirals to Katrina Hacker and Jane Summersett, and then he and Mark tried one. Later, Amanda [Evora], Mark, Jess and Drew tried some "fours" death spirals. We think they should do some in the show next year!

The cutest sight of the day was Paul skating with his children. They're still very young, but they were excited to get to skate with Dad.

The show that night was a winner; everyone skated really well, and it will be shown on CN8 soon. Nikolai Morozov's tiny daughter Annabelle opened the show both nights. She was in her element all weekend, and she gives every sign of being a future star. At age seven, she loves the spotlight. Ross Miner skated his short program, to a western theme. He played both the sheriff and an outlaw, and in the middle section of the program he pulled his neckerchief up over his face. Ross says judges have given the costume the thumbs-up, so you'll probably see it at Easterns.

Brittney Rizo skated a showy program to "I Am Changing," from Dreamgirls. Jane Summersett and Todd Gilles did an incredibly entertaining contemporary program to "Do It Again," wearing white turtlenecks and goggles. Christopher Dean choreographed it, and it's very weird, and we loved it.

Scott Smith showed off his new short program to Vangelis' "Nerve Centre," dressed somewhat like a gold-trimmed robot. He skated clean and with a lot of positive energy. The Haydenettes did a martial arts-themed program to Kung Fu Panda, which sounds a little silly but was actually powerful and impressive, with lots of lifts. They're strong girls!

Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov skated in the show for the twentieth year in a row. Oleg admitted to being 76, and he still lifted his wife several times. Their death spirals are as beautiful as ever. Dan Hollander brought another in his series of comic programs, a very sweet number to Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours," in which he plays a hobo looking for love. He tried to charm one Haydenette after another, and finally met his destiny in the form of Brittney, also dressed as a hobo.

Morgan and Leif did their free dance on Friday and their original on Saturday. They don't have costumes yet, so Leif wore Ben Agosto's costume from last year, and Morgan wore "An old blues dress from, like, 1902!" The programs look accomplished technically, but we're still waiting to get a sense of the finished product when the costumes make their debut. This is dance, after all.

Katrina skated her short program to On Golden Pond, dressed in a very old-fashioned costume, which looked like it was from, well, 1902. She started out pretending to tie her skates, and you could almost see her skating out onto a winter pond. It was charming and quiet, and we think everyone is going to adore it. Drew and Jess followed, doing their first-ever run-through of their Phantom program. Jess landed a huge throw triple Salchow and Drew's makeup stayed on, despite much angsty face-touching.

Everyone was excited to see Matt, who hasn't performed in public since last year's show. We asked him afterward how he felt, and he said, "Like I haven't performed in a year!" He skated to "Caravan," a rather fast version, and did a great triple Lutz. Matt drove down from Cornell, where he's a third-year law student, on Friday morning -- a six-hour drive. He told us he will be moving to Boston next fall and working for a law firm, so we hope we'll see him in the show every year!

Anna Zadorozhniuk and Sergei Verbillo did their original dance to Chicago. During the dance, she wore a pink boa, which they tangled around each other later for a cool twist. Amanda and Mark showed off their whole kit of impressive pair tricks to "Your Song." They looked really good, strong and secure, and the crowd went wild for them. They did a throw triple loop in the program and a throw triple Lutz in the finale!

Adam closed the show each night. On Friday, he did his short program, to "Air on a G String" and "Four Seasons." On Saturday, he did his long to "Send in the Clowns" and the aforementioned "I Pagliacci." The program included two triple Axels and a three-jump combination -- under spotlights, mind you. It's very poignant, and he skates the heck out of it. Skate America is going to be exciting! We're thinking the U.S. men should bring their brooms.

There was another reception after the Saturday night show, in which the fans lined up for autographs, and then the 39th edition of this extravaganza came to a close.

We're still recovering.
Sarah and Drew